Harlem-based CEO creates technology to bring renewable energy to communities around the world

HARLEM, Manhattan- “Boxing is very much like business," Jessica O. Matthews said. "You not only think about what your next move will be, you also realize that for every action, there’s a reaction.” There’s a fight inside Jessica O. Matthews, a powerful one that started at the age of 19. “I’ve always wanted to make things, I’ve always tinkered and I’ve always wanted to be an inventor that I can tell you for sure," she said. 

Now 29, she’s the CEO of 'Uncharted Play', a renewable energy company. “We’re a company for the underdog and we’re on a mission to democratize energy access," she explained. "I personally believe energy and reliable access to energy is a problem for humanity." A mentality and mission rooted inside a 4th floor walkup in Central Harlem where she surrounds herself with constant inspiration. She’s a global citizen who grew up traveling between the United States and Africa. "I have family members living in Nigeria who have to experience daily serious energy issues," she Matthews said. "So, that’s what drove me."

While at Harvard, Matthews co-invented SOCCKET, a soccer ball that creates power when you kick it. "If you’re able to give people access to reliable power you’re not only solving a technical issue, you’re solving an empowerment issue," she said. Now she’s trying to use sidewalks the same way, every step generates energy. “[The idea is] how can you create that essential from a technological perspective allows people to get the power that they need just from the motion of their day but more figuratively how do you create technology that makes us more human," she explained. 

She was named one of Forbes “30 under 30” and praised by both President Obama and President Clinton, "If ever there was an innovator, she’s it," Clinton said at Clinton Global Initiative panel. And last year she made history raising the most “Series A” funding than any other black woman. She could work anywhere, but she chose Harlem. "For me, I think this community is full of an amazing energy, amazing history," she described. "We fit here, it’s almost like we found out where we always belonged."

Which is why she launched Harlem Tech Fund, the nonprofit arm of Uncharted Play, that provides S.T.E.M. education and career support through neighborhood events. "She’s from Harlem, she’s black and that means the world in ways that a lot of people wouldn’t really understand,” Quinton Counts, an attendee at a recent event, expressed. “It says a lot about what’s possible."

She may be a source of inspiration for many but Jessica credits another woman for being the real innovator in her life. “When people ask me who my favorite inventor is, I say my mom, because what I've seen her do and how I’ve seen her handle things it’s invention, she just doesn’t have a patent," said Matthews.

 

Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi